Page 24 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 43

Basic HTML Version

12
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
man against the restrictive Rabbi Marvin Binder, names give the
game away early. Ozzie, for example, had wondered
. . . how Rabbi Binder could call the Jews “the Chosen Peo­
ple” if the Declaration of Independence claimed all men to
be created equal. Rabbi Binder tried to distinguish for him
between political equality and spiritual legitimacy, but what
Ozzie wanted to know, he insisted vehemently, was differ­
ent.
As the “dream” that is the story of Ozzie Freedman and Rabbi
Binder would have it, there
are
no answers for such subversive
questions; official Judaism can only fall back on its authority, on
its ability to
punish.
Which is also to say that its author — a very
brash, very talented twenty-six-year-old Philip Roth — is a better
student of Freudian psychology than he is of Jewish theology.
Rabbi Binder is, of course, meant to be the “heavy” of the piece
while Ozzie Freedman stands for freedom, for probing curiosity,
for the unbridled imagination.
But Ozzie is also an ersatz dictator, a mirror image of the Au­
thority he despises in Binder. Not since the biblical Joseph has a
dreamer so insisted on the special privileges that come with stage-
center, so insisted on orchestrating the responses of those who
bow down before him. The result is a story that unfolds neatly —
a bit too neatly — as Ozzie delivers his
coup de grace
(“You don’t
know! You don’t know anything about God!”), bolts out of the
shocked classroom and takes up a position atop the synagogue
roof. In short, Roth establishes his dreamscape accordng to
Freud and the scene is set for a final confrontation between the
restraining forces of the super-ego (i.e. parents, cops, preachers,
teachers, all those who wear society’s uniform) and the libido’s
itch for raw power:
“Get down on your knees,” he [Ozzie] said, “or I ’ll
jum p .”. . . “Everybody kneel.” There was the second of ev­
erybody kneeling. . .
“Rabbi Binder, do you believe in God?”
“Yes.”
“Do you believe God can do Anything,” Ozzie leaned his
head out into the darkness. “Anything?”
“Oscar, I think —”
“Tell me you believe God can do Anything.”